As with prior discussions about the potential for a "burqa ban" in France, and its legislation, there has been much reporting and commentary both within and without France. What follows is a mere sampling. For details on the law, see Part I, for the political context of the law, see this previous post.
Reactions in France
All of the major French papers have reported and commented on the day of the ban's enforcement. In one article, Le Monde emphasizes that police agencies across the country decry the law as unenforceable and unnecessary. Its opposite, Le Figaro, also notes the formal police statement that the law is unenforceable, and the Minister of the Interior's response that it will be enforced anyway.
A number of others (Le Nouvel Observateur, France 20 minutes, Europe 1 France, Le Parisien) reported on the demonstration in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and the arrests of 2 women, including Kenza Drider, a French Muslim from Avignon, who has been wearing the veil for 13 years, seen above arriving at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, and below at the demonstration.
Today, April 12 there are reports (France Soir, AFP, Le Figaro) of women arrested for wearing the face veil in places outside Paris, one in Saint Denis (given a warning, and reminder of the law), the other in Yvelines (fined 150 Euros, ie the maximum). The latter is a 28-year-old French woman who insisted she is wearing the niqab of her own volition.
The following article from the BBC represents the views of people living or working in Barbès, a neighbourhood of Paris with a very high North African Muslim population. Among the other interesting aspects of the article is the paucity of women wearing the niqab, even in such a neighbourhood. Another major issue is that of the problems in the government housing in ghetto-ized suburbs of Paris. In fact, reliable sociological studies show that these are problems of poverty, isolation, hopelessness, and exclusion from French society rather than ethnic or religious choices.
Ban on Muslim women covering faces with veils in France
Page last updated at 05:57 GMT, Monday, 11 April 2011 06:57 UK
By Nomia Iqbal
Newsbeat reporter in Paris
From today (11 April) it is illegal for Muslim women in France to cover their faces with veils in public.
It's the first European country to pass the law but there's been criticism that it's pointless because only a minority of women wear them.
Any woman caught wearing the burka or niqab faces a fine and will be asked to take citizenship lessons. She can also be subject to an investigation.
If police find her husband is forcing her to cover up, he could face a fine of 25,000 euros (£22,000) and a possible jail sentence.
Many Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians live in Barbès, Paris
In the 18th district of Paris, is Barbès. There is a strong Muslim community that lives there, made up of people of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian descent.
France is home to western Europe's largest Muslim population of six million.
Out of that, the number that wear the burka or niqab differs, depending on who you ask.
Hadjou owns an Islamic clothes shop in the district.
"Selling the niqab is bad for business," he said. "Not many women wear it or ask for it.
"I've probably sold about five in a year."
Ahmed who runs a small business near one of the district's mosques says he rarely sees women covered up and that was before this ban.
"I'd say probably 0.01% of Muslim women wear the niqab," he admitted.
The French government thinks that figure is much higher. Ministers put it at around 2,000 women.
Ahmed said he didn't think that was true: "That's not possible, but even if it's true, it's only a minority that wear it. So what?"
For some, Muslim women wearing veils is a problem.
The interior minister Claude Guéant has been accused of Islamophobia after saying the growing population of Muslims in the country "poses problems".
The French government says they encourage segregation and promote the inequality of women.
Sihem Habchi, a Muslim woman who has worked with the government on the ban, agrees.
"It's because it's a minority we need to act," she said.
"Five years ago hardly anyone wore the niqab.
"In another five years we will be like England where there are neighbourhoods and ghettos full of women wearing them."
It is in the banlieues where the government believes this problem is growing.
They are France's version of council estates located about 35 minutes away from central Paris.
In 2005 riots were triggered among angry young people after two teenagers died in Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor area in an eastern suburb of Paris.
They blamed police for causing it and many feel that persecution is still going on.
Yasmine Diallo, 21
"If Mr Sarkozy wants to help people in the suburban areas, why not create better jobs, provide better housing.
"Removing the veil won't change anything.
"There are people who don't cover up and they're still struggling. Hardly anyone wears this.
"If anything, banning it will probably make more women wear it."
Billal Chegar, 25
"This is all about politics.
"It's nothing to do with us normal French people.
"It's something the government has decided and we have no say.
"I believe in freedom of religion and this is a dangerous thing that's happening."
Abdelkrim Branine, 30
"I'm not for the burka or the niqab but I believe in wearing what you want. This law is not needed.
"All it does is stigmatises French Muslims and is all about getting votes next year.
"The government doesn't have a program to help poor people so instead they've decided to blame Muslims.
"It only affects a minority of women and won't make any difference."
"I think everyone is free and should be allowed to wear what they want. It's a very difficult debate.
"I don't agree with the burka or niqab but I don't believe in this ban."
[*The BBC has also published 2 excellent background articles: The Islamic veil across Europe, published April 11, 2011, on the legal standing of the Islamic veil in different European countries; Viewpoints: Anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe, published January 21, 2011, on the social acceptability of Anti-Muslim prejudice in different European countries, as reported by academics from each country].
Reactions in other European Countries
Some interesting articles from Britain and Spain:
Agnès Poirier: This excessive law tempts me to put a veil on myself--How will the French police proceed in dealing with a law that they say is unworkable?
The absence of evidence for banning burqas: Are arguments in favour of the French ban supported by any actual evidence, and what happens when we ban burqas anyway?
Behind the burqa ban's reasoning: France's burqa ban may be based on a different idea of necessary morality, but Britain is in no position to point and hoot
El modelo francés no sirve by Oxford Chair in European Studies, Timothy Garton Ash, on how the French model is unhelpful in solving the challenges of integration
Francia estrena el veto al 'burka' con protestas y detenciones Summarizes the events of April 11, and repeats the problem French police have with the law's enforceability
Los musulmanes en España: 'Sarkozy utiliza el islam como moneda electoral'
Describes the reaction on the part of Spanish Muslims, who believe Sarkozy is using the law for electoral gains.
Reactions in the US
Two American-based Muslim women, Heba Ahmed and Mona Eltahawy, present their reactions to the French burqa ban from opposite ends of the spectrum on the CNN program In the Arena with Elliot Spitzer moderating. Good points are made by all three.
Ultimately, I agree with Spitzer: the ban is unique in regulating the religious dress of one specific group, and while one may not agree with the wearing of the face veil, one cannot impose such a ban as a point of law; and, where there is imposition on Muslim women as a form of abuse, there are other mechanisms to deal with that. I also agree that Mona Eltawahy's "facts" are overreaching, ideological, and personalized. Her catch phrase about agreeing with the racist French right wing to counter the misogynist Islamic right wing, makes for a good sound bite. However, it is based on faulty logic, and a failure to consider the longterm consequences for the French, men and women of all faiths, of such an attitude.
I disagree though with Heba Ahmed's argument about wearing the niqab to make a statement against Western forms of oppressive norms on women's bodies--eating disorders are far more complex, for a start). I also disagree with her that the niqab draws attention to a woman's mind--it draws attention to the niqab, especially in the West. Many assume a woman wearing a niqab has no mind of her own anyway, or at least not a sane, nuanced, thinking one.
The Huffington Post has a number of articles, and the New York Times weighs in with "Government-Enforced Bigotry in France". The Christian Science Monitor includes the French Burqa Ban as one of the 5 ways that Europe is targetting Islam, the others (click next at the top of the main article) being the Belgian Burqa Ban, the Swiss Minarets Ban, the Dutch Burqa Ban, and the British sidelining of the creation of the London "mega-mosque".
Reactions in Saudi Arabia
An unidentified veiled woman [Drider] is taken away by police for questioning in Paris on Monday. (AP)
Mixed reaction to French niqab ban
By MARIAM NIHAL | ARAB NEWS
Published: Apr 12, 2011 00:34 Updated: Apr 12, 2011 00:39
JEDDAH: There was mixed reaction among women in the Kingdom to a ban on niqab that went into effect in France on Monday.
Paris police arrested two veiled women and several other people protesting in front of Notre Dame cathedral against the new law. On Saturday, 59 people were arrested, including 19 veiled women, during a banned protest in Paris against the new law.
Under the law, anyone refusing to lift a veil for an identity check can be persuaded to remove the garment at a police station. A woman who is defiant and insists on appearing veiled in public can be fined 150 euros ($216) and will be ordered to attend re-education classes.
Samia Abdullah, a 24-year-old journalist in Jeddah, was indignant: “Doesn’t France have freedom of religion in its law structure? There should be freedom to practice every religion and I do not see a reason behind this infuriating racial profiling.”
Thirty-year-old Sarah Kazim, a housewife, believes everyone should respect the law of the land. “If women are made to dress a different way and wear their hijab in Saudi Arabia and we respect it, then we should respect the laws of the French constitution. Why treat them differently when we have laws that are most distinct to any other country?”
Reema Jabak, a 27-year-old teacher, said: “It is understandable they want to eliminate any security threats, except that they should have security check points to search women wearing a veil, not ban their right to practice their religious beliefs altogether.”
Marketing executive Seema Nahdi, 35, warned against overreaction. “There is an identity crisis with the veil, you do not know who you are facing. It could be a man disguised or a potential threat. It is a different paradigm. People need to look at it from a political perspective and not strain it with emotional melodrama,” she said.
Samah Ahmed, a 42-year-old mother in Riyadh, was outraged. She called the ban blasphemy. “How dare they take away our right to protect and practice our religion? Yes, this means my daughters cannot travel to France anymore but that is fine. We will not bow down to the injustice they dole out to us. It is time they treat women with respect,” she said.
Reactions in Other MENA Countries
Aside from the article above, from Saudi Arabia, I found little except for minor recountings of the day in the major papers or country based news sites. An exception was the following article from Gulf News, on the response in the UAE, Niqab is not obligatory in Islam, scholars say; West should practise what it preaches and give Muslim women freedom to wear face veils, experts say.
Image Credit: Guillermo F. Munro/Gulf News
Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
Any interesting links you found in national or international news sites?
Why, even if you hate the niqab, you should hate the French "burqa ban" more
France and the Niqab/Burka Ban Revisited: The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
France Enforces Its "Burqa Ban" Starting April 11, 2011: Part I The Law
France Enforces Its "Burqa Ban" Starting April 11, 2011: Part III Et tu, Canada?--upcoming
One of 2 women arrested April 11, 2011, in front of Notre Dame Cathedral (France Soir, S/PA).
As of this posting 7 women in France had been arrested.
As of this posting 7 women in France had been arrested.